Happiness For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Defining Happiness

Part II: Personality Attributes That Lead to Happiness

Part III: Behaving Your Way toward Happiness

Part IV: Striking the Right Balance

Part V: Achieving Happiness in Key Relationships

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Defining Happiness

Chapter 1: Anyone Can Be Happy

Happiness: The Universal Emotion

Happiness from the Individual Perspective

The Demographics of Happiness


Marital status

Education level

Happiness at Each Stage of Self-Actualization

Looking at the Benefit of Positive Emotions

Broadening your focus and expanding your thinking

Improving your ability to problem-solve

Building physical, intellectual, and social resources

Counteracting negative emotions

Protecting your health

Achieving Happiness Isn’t Always Easy

Being mindful

Lingering in the moment

Being happy about being happy

How Happy Are You?

Chapter 2: The Recipe for Happiness

The Four Basic Ingredients





The Rest of the Mix






How Close Are You?

Chapter 3: Knowing What Happiness Isn’t

What Money Really Buys




The Elixirs of Modern-Day Life




The Problem with the Abundant Life

Happiness Is Not a Life-Transforming Experience

Chapter 4: Seeing Happiness as a Sign, Not a Symptom

Feedback from Your Nervous System

The “e” in your emotion

Sad, mad, and glad

There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Happiness

Being in Sync with Your Surroundings

Happiness is a sign that you’re in the right place

Happiness is a sign that you’re with the right people

Happiness is a sign that you’re doing the right thing

Happiness is a sign that you’re doing things for the right reasons

Never Pass Up an Opportunity

Part II: Personality Attributes That Lead to Happiness

Chapter 5: Optimism

What’s So Good about Optimism?

How Optimistic Are You?

Happiness: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Can’t never could

I think I can, I think I can . . .

Winning the Battle of Negative Expectations

Moving Beyond Pessimism

Chapter 6: Hardiness

The Recipe for Hardiness




How Hardy Are You?

Transformational Coping

Hardy is as hardy does

The best and worst of times

Chapter 7: Conscientiousness

Are You Living an Honest Life?

How Engaged Are You?

Examining Ethics

Are You a Conscientious Objector?

Part III: Behaving Your Way toward Happiness

Chapter 8: Getting into Flow

Where Flow Lives: Identifying the Best Moments of Your Life

Understanding Who You Really Are

The importance of taking a bad job

How to avoid a midlife crisis

Being Happy Today — Not Next Week, Next Month, or Next Year

The dessert theory of happiness

Waiting for the ship that never came in

Pursuing What You Want, Not What You Have

Getting into Flow: A Four-Step Process

Step 1: Identifying your sources of flow

Step 2: Taking the plunge

Step 3: Giving yourself enough time

Step 4: Making flow a regular part of your day

Chapter 9: Finding Benefit in Life’s Challenges

Having the Right Perspective

Asking yourself whether the sky really is falling

Being optimistic

Asking the Right Questions

What can I do now thatI couldn’t do before?

Why have I been given this opportunity?

Am I up to the challenge?

Making Sure You Realize the Benefit

Redirecting your energies

Forging closer ties to those around you

Making the necessary adjustments

Making a revised life plan

Chapter 10: Living a Coherent Lifestyle

Coherence = Confidence

Coherence Isn’t One Thing, It’s Many

Diversifying your life

Understanding how coherence changes with age

What to Do When Coherence Is Disrupted

Have a heart-to-heart with a higher power

Set aside the unanswerable questions of life

Know how to begin and end each day

Count your opportunities and blessings

Making Sense of Life: The Core Components




Chapter 11: Making a Daily Confession

Confessing the Good Stuff: Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions

Positive thoughts

Positive feelings

Positive actions

Putting It Down on Paper

Engaging in Group Confessions

Chapter 12: Putting On a Happy Face

Smiling: The Universal Language

From Cradle to Grave

Interpreting the Smiles of Others

The lying smile

The angry smile

The masking smile

The charismatic smile

The contemptuous smile

The real deal

Empowering Yourself: SmilingBecause You Want To

Identifying who or what makes you smile

Face-making 101: Start with a smile and go from there

Part IV: Striking the Right Balance

Chapter 13: Hassles versus Uplifts

Knowing When to Sweat the Small Stuff and When to Let It Go

Sweating the small stuff

Letting the small stuff go

Looking at How Hassled and Uplifted You Are

Chapter 14: Structure versus Freedom

Living a Life of Purpose

Restructuring Your Life after a Major Life Change

Moving on after graduation

Filling the empty nest

Ensuring a happy retirement

Recognizing the Importance of Rituals

Knowing When to Plan and When Not To

Spending More Time Doing Absolutely Nothing

Making Sure Your Life Is Like a Chinese Menu

Column A pursuits

Column B pursuits

Indulging Your Alternative Self

Chapter 15: Work versus Play

Which Is More Important: Your Money or Your (Quality of) Life?

Setting Yourself Up to Be More Balanced

Appreciating the arts

Expanding your horizons

Being curious

Putting down the grade book

Losing the watch

Eating slowly

Thinking of yourself as a small “i”

Walking to work — even when you drive

Eliminating the number-speak

Pretending you’re a Dutchman

Identifying the Three Types of Play

Solitary play

Parallel play

Cooperative play

Chapter 16: Socialization versus Solitude

Recognizing That Happiness Doesn’t Occur in a Vacuum

Do you have meaningful social ties?

How big is your network?

Who’s in your network?

Where’s your support?

Are you receptive to support?

What kind of support are you getting?

The Benefits of Being Connected

Looking at the Importance of Solitude

Chapter 17: Selfishness versus Generosity

Healthy Selfishness

Putting the “I” back in identity

Being a good scout

Taking time for yourself

Too Much of a Good Thing: Generosity Gone Awry

Giving the Right Way

Giving only because you want to

Giving without control

Part V: Achieving Happiness in Key Relationships

Chapter 18: At Work

Calculating Your Workplace Positivity Ratio

Loving What You Do

Establishing Healthy Boundaries

Avoiding Toxic Coworkers

The stress carriers

The naysayers

Looking for Win-Win Solutions





Using Anger Constructively

Step 1: Think about how you want to feel afterward

Step 2: Make anger about the problem, not the person

Step 3: Look at what’s underneath your anger

Step 4: Be empathetic

Step 5: Engage in give-and-take conversation

Step 6: Watch your body language

Counteracting Counterproductive Work Behavior

Giving your employer a full day’s effort

Treating your coworkers with civility

Being a team player

Creating good public relations

Chapter 19: At Home

Setting Priorities

Deciding What Kind of Parent You Want to Be





Balancing Interdependence with Autonomy

Sharing power

Making sure everybody has a job

Fighting Fair

The Family Table: Sharing the All-Important One Meal a Day

Chapter 20: In Intimate Relationships

Understanding What Being a Partner Really Means

Balancing the Me with the We

Thinking of Happiness in a Relationship as a Three-Legged Stool


Shared interests


Avoiding the Dreaded “C” Word: Contempt

Making Empathy the Norm

Emotional empathy

Rational empathy

Tending and Befriending: Reaching Out to Those You Love

Identifying the Three Most Important Words in a Relationship

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 21: Ten Ways to Raise a Happy Child

Make Sure Your Message Gets Through

Be Your Child’s Emotional Coach

Distinguish between Needs and Wants

Show Your Child That Generosity Begins at Home

Teach Your Child Mastery

Help Your Child Be a Happy Loser

Encourage All Forms of Play

Allow for Imperfections

Teach Your Child Commitment and Perseverance

Let Your Child See You Happy

Chapter 22: Ten Roadblocks to Happiness

An Unrealistic Sense of Self


Toxic Anger







Drug Abuse

Chapter 23: Ten Things You Can Do Today to Foster Happiness in Your Life

Establish and Stick to a Morning Ritual

Eat a Healthy Diet


Get Enough Sleep


Make a Spiritual Connection

Be Thankful

Think and Feel with Compassion

Lend a Helping Hand

Have a Sense of Humor

Chapter 24: Ten Thoughts That Lead to Happiness

Life Is Ahead of You — And That’s Where Your Focus Should Be

It’s Never Too Late to Say You’re Sorry

We’re Here to Help Each Other

I’ve Had My Fair Share

You Don’t Have to Get over the Bad Things in Life — You Just Have to Get beyond Them

Life Isn’t Fair — And the Sooner You Accept That Reality, the Better

When in Doubt, Pole Left

Water Flows Downhill

I Have What I Need

I Deserve to Be Happy

Appendix: Resources

Happiness For Dummies®

by W. Doyle Gentry, PhD


About the Author

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist living in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and was the founding editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. In Dr. Gentry’s 40-year career as a scientist-practitioner, he has authored over 100 publications in the fields of health psychology and behavioral medicine, which he helped pioneer. He has previously served on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. Gentry has conducted training seminars for lay and professional audiences throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has also served as a consultant to major industry, where he specializes in conflict management, team building, and health promotion. Articles referring to Dr. Gentry’s work regularly appear in a variety of contemporary magazines, and he is frequently interviewed on radio and television. He is the author of three earlier self-help books: Anger-Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing Your Anger (William Morrow), When Someone You Love Is Angry (Berkley), and Anger Management For Dummies (Wiley).

Dr. Gentry is available for speaking engagements and workshops. Interested readers may contact him via e-mail at


I dedicate this book to the countless numbers of people who, in one way or another, have brought happiness into my life.

Author’s Acknowledgments

I want to thank a number of fellow collaborators without whose efforts writing this book would not have been possible or nearly as enjoyable. As always, I want to express my appreciation to my agent, Maura Kye, of the Denise Marcil Literary Agency. Once again, she has served my interests well!

The team at John Wiley & Sons, Inc. — in particular, Mike Baker, Elizabeth Kuball, Lindsey Lefevere, and Diane Steele — was a pleasure to work with at all phases of the project. I greatly appreciate their encouragement and professionalism, as well as their thoughtfulness and patience throughout. Their collective enthusiasm for the For Dummies brand is definitely contagious.

Lastly, I want to thank my loving family — Catherine, Chris, and Rebecca — for their unending support for my life’s work and, more important, for bringing so much happiness into my life each and every day.

I believe that happiness is the only really important goal, and yet we are all dummies when it comes to pursuing it in our everyday lives. If this book brings even one additional moment of happiness to the life of a single reader, then my time spent on this project will have been well worth it.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at For other comments, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax 317-572-4002.

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Acquisitions Editor: Mike Baker

Copy Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Editorial Program Coordinator: Erin Calligan Mooney

Technical Editor: Donna Allen, PhD, MS Ed, CHES, FAWHP

Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich

Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistants: Joe Niesen, David Lutton, Jennette ElNaggar

Cover Photos: © Stock Connection Distribution / Alamy

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Katie Key

Layout and Graphics: Melissa K. Jester, Ron Terry, Julie Trippetti, Abby Westcott, Tobin Wilkerson, Christine Williams

Proofreaders: Joni Heredia, Jessica Kramer

Indexer: Valerie Haynes Perry

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


Happiness is an important part of life — no less than anger, sadness, and fear. It begins with life itself: What mother doesn’t recognize the look of happiness on the face of her newborn? Human beings are wired with an innate, neurological potential for happiness, but whether this potential eventually becomes a reality depends on how we choose to live our lives. In other words, happiness isn’t an accident, and it isn’t a gift from the gods — it’s the gift you give yourself!

Unlike Shangri-La, a mythical paradise on Earth, happiness is not confined to a particular place, nor is it the result of any one specific activity or life circumstance. Happiness is a personal state of physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being that you can experience anywhere at any time. This morning, for example, before I began to work on this book, I spent a few happy moments sitting in my driveway quietly watching my two basset hounds, Max and Dixie, experiencing another day through the many divergent smells on a crisp fall morning in Virginia.

If you’re like me, you’re far too passive when it comes to experiencing happiness. You wait for it to find you instead of exercising your right to pursue it. It’s because most people are passive when it comes to happiness that happiness seems so elusive! Face it: We live in proactive times. People around the world don’t wait for freedom — they fight for it. Wealth is no longer something you have to inherit (despite what Paris Hilton may think) — you can create it. People are living longer these days. Why? Because we’re learning that we can improve quality of life through the everyday choices we make. Happiness For Dummies tells you how to fight for, create, and live a long and happy life. It makes you the master of your own happy destiny!

About This Book

How do you know when you’re happy? Are you as happy as most people? If you have lots of money or a fancy title at work, shouldn’t that be enough to make you happy? What does happiness have to do with health? Is there such a thing as eternal happiness? Can you really make yourself happy by putting a smile on your face? Type B personalities tend to enjoy less material success than Type A’s, so why are Type B’s so much happier? These are just a few of the important questions that Happiness For Dummies answers.

In writing Happiness For Dummies, I had five basic goals in mind:

I wanted to show you that happiness is not a simple emotion — it’s an extremely complex experience that results from feeling safe, satisfied, and grateful. By understanding all the key ingredients that are involved, you can make up your own recipe for happiness.

I wanted to tell you what happiness isn’t — it isn’t power, money, success, or excitement. Happiness is something much more than that!

I wanted to show you how to develop those personality attributes that maximize your potential for happiness — optimism, hardiness, and conscientiousness. These are not qualities that you inherit at birth through some genetic “good fortune” — they’re learned traits, and if you haven’t learned them yet, this book can help.

I wanted to offer you actionable strategies for pursuing happiness. In other words, I wanted to show you how to get into the flow of everyday life, how to find the silver lining in what you otherwise might view as an all-bad situation, how to develop an abiding sense of self-confidence, and how to smile for the right reasons. Think of this book as your happiness toolbox!

I wanted to emphasize the importance of striking the right balance between the essential opposing forces that constitute human life, like that between work and play or between selfishness and generosity. Happiness is never found at the extremes of life — it’s in the middle. That’s why they call it the “happy medium”!

Happiness For Dummies is not one of those 12-step books where you have to read and follow the advice of Step 1 before you can proceed to Step 2, and so on. It’s a resource book that contains everything I know about how to achieve happiness after four decades of professional experience, both as a scientist and as a clinician — and after more than 60 years of personal experience living my own life!

I did not want Happiness For Dummies to be another one of those pie-in-the-sky books containing more fluff than substance. This book is intended to show ordinary people how to pursue and achieve happiness. Simply put, it’s a road map that guides you to the most sought-after destination in life — happiness. Buying this book means you want to get there — Happiness For Dummies shows you how.

Conventions Used in This Book

Happiness For Dummies is not a book about the science of happiness. Even though the principles contained in the book are based in part on science, I’ve eliminated all the professional jargon and instead used terms and concepts that the average person without a degree in psychology can understand. Instead of looking at tables and charts, you read about happy people — composites of real people like yourself who represent friends, relatives, and clients I’ve had the good fortune to learn from over the years. The quotations and two-person dialogs that I include in these stories are based solely on my recollections of conversations I had. And, yes, you find a few reflections on my own most memorable moments of happiness sprinkled throughout —one of the perks of being an author is sharing my experiences!

You don’t have to know psychology to understand Happiness For Dummies. But I do use a couple of conventions that you should be aware of:

When I introduce a new term, I put the word in italics and define it shortly thereafter (usually in parentheses).

When I give you a list of steps to perform, I put the action part of the step in bold, so you can easily follow along.

When I list an e-mail address or Web address, I use a special font called monofont so you know exactly what to type.

When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that we haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

What You’re Not to Read

Look on the bright side: I won’t be giving you a test after you’ve had a chance to read Happiness For Dummies. So, you don’t have to read every single word, sentence, chapter, and/or part of the book to get your money’s worth. And don’t feel compelled to remember everything. If it strikes a nerve, believe me, you’ll remember it!

Throughout the book, I include lots of sidebars — text in gray boxes. Sidebars make me happy! Although they aren’t an essential part of the overall message conveyed in this book, they are things I thought you might find interesting. You can think of them as side dishes to the main course. If you’re hungry for every morsel of information there is on how to pursue happiness, then by all means gobble them up; otherwise, you can skip them altogether and still satisfy your appetite.

You can also safely skip any paragraphs marked with Technical Stuff icons (see “Icons Used in This Book,” later in this Introduction, for more information).

Foolish Assumptions

I made a few assumptions about you when I was writing Happiness For Dummies:

You want to be happy — but so far happiness has been elusive. You bought this book, not because you want or need someone to convince you that happiness is a good thing, but because you haven’t been able to achieve it on your own. You know it’s out there; you just don’t know how to find it.

You’re open-minded about discovering more-efficient ways to achieve happiness. People don’t typically buy books simply to reinforce their own fixed ideas about life or to have someone else tell them about experiences they’ve already had. They’re looking for something new, something different, something that will both guide and inspire them — something that will help them not only survive but, more important, thrive on life.

You see yourself as part of the “let’s do it” generation and you want to be a player, not a spectator, when it comes to achieving true happiness. This attitude portends one of the key personality traits underlying happiness — hardiness — which I cover in this book. You may be farther along in your pursuit of happiness than you realized!

How This Book Is Organized

I organized Happiness For Dummies into 6 parts and 23 chapters. Here’s what you can find in each part.

Part I: Defining Happiness

In these first four chapters, I acquaint you with some basic ideas about happiness as a universal emotion, the benefits that positive emotions have for health, the key ingredients that make up happiness, and what happiness isn’t. (Knowing what happiness isn’t is important because many people spend most of their lives searching for happiness in all the wrong places.) I show you how to calculate your HQ — happiness quotient — and help you compare yourself to others so that you know whether you’re ahead of or behind the curve. I also explain how happiness is simply your nervous system’s feedback about whether you’re living the right kind of life — and fill you in on what right means in the context of achieving happiness.

Part II: Personality Attributes That Lead to Happiness

In this part, I introduce concepts — in this case, personality attributes — from the emerging field of positive psychology that greatly influence the extent to which you experience happiness. Not everyone learns early in life (if at all) to be optimistic, hardy, and conscientious, so in these three chapters I show you how to be that type of person and get a leg up in your quest for happiness. It’s not hard — trust me.

Part III: Behaving Your Way toward Happiness

Chapters 8 through 12 show you specific ways to behave — always look for the silver lining, have a heart-to-heart with a higher power, make a daily confession of the positives in your life — that increase your potential for achieving happiness. Chapter 12 talks in depth about the power of a smile and gives you a heads-up about which smiles will not bring you happiness. The idea here is that happiness is no mere accident — it’s something that you have to work for!

Part IV: Striking the Right Balance

If you’re like me, your everyday life is mostly out of balance. Sad to say, you approach life from one extreme or another — you work too much and play too little, you have too many hassles and not enough of life’s little pleasures, and you’re either too selfish or too selfless. Am I right? This part of the book helps you find a happy medium along some of the more important dimensions of life.

Part V: Achieving Happiness in Key Relationships

People tend to compartmentalize their day-to-day lives into three main areas of interaction — at work, at home, and in intimate relationships. The three chapters in this part offer situation-specific strategies designed to increase happiness. Interpersonal happiness is all about reciprocity — or, as the saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” Here I show you how to calculate your workplace positivity ratio, which determines whether employees flounder or flourish at work; tell you which parenting style leads to a happy home life; and illustrate how marital happiness is really a three-legged stool.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

If you’re looking for quick ideas about how to raise a happy child or the ten most common roadblocks to becoming a happy person, or you just want an easy-to-remember checklist of personal habits or thoughts that foster happiness, this is the part for you.

Icons Used in This Book

Icons are those little pictures in the margins throughout this book that are there to draw your attention to certain types of information.

Tip.eps This icon suggests practical how-to strategies for achieving happiness.

Remember.eps This icon alerts you to important ideas and concepts that you’ll want to remember and that you can use when you don’t have Happiness For Dummies in hand.

TechnicalStuff.eps Every once in a while, the scientist in me gets a little chatty, and when I do, I mark the paragraph with this icon. You can read these paragraphs if you want, but the information they contain isn’t essential to your understanding of the topic at hand.

Warning(bomb).eps This icon appears when I think a cautionary note is in order or when you need to seek professional help.

Where to Go from Here

You don’t have to begin by reading Chapter 1 and continue straight through to the end of the book. Each part and chapter of this book is meant to stand alone in its discussion of how to achieve true happiness. When I was writing, I skipped around, writing chapters in no particular order — when I finished one chapter, I looked at the table of contents to see what interested me next and went with that. It made the writing more fun. Feel free to do the same — choose a topic that interests you and dive in!

You may want to head straight for those chapters that focus on how to achieve happiness in your key relationships — at work, at home, and with your loved ones (Part V). Or you may want to take a quick look at the ten most common obstacles to happiness (Chapter 22). The choice is yours. In the end, it really doesn’t matter where you start — what matters most is where you end up, I hope a much happier person!

Part I

Defining Happiness

281710 pp0101.eps

In this part . . .

I talk about why happiness is a universal emotion and help you begin to appreciate just how complex an experience true happiness is. I explain why there is no such thing as eternal, everlasting happiness and why it’s important to enjoy those precious moments. I show you how to quantify happiness and break down happiness into its various components — pleasure, gratitude, contentment — so that you know how close you are to achieving your goal of being a happy person. I also tell you where not to look for happiness — power, status, wealth, and success. If that’s all you pursue in life, you can only end up being unhappy! Finally, I explain what your nervous system is telling you when you find happiness — the answers to four crucial questions that determine your overall quality of life.